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Guazi by Yiming Low

To My Mother

by Luna Lu

9:58 p.m.

          I unlocked my phone after finishing my essay just before my 10 p.m. deadline. A sigh of relief escaped my pursed lips and instantly turned into white fumes – fall in Michigan is already frosty and wintry. There was nothing new except a photo from my father. I reluctantly opened it, annoyed at the thought that it might be just another reminder to do the homework that I just finished or his exciting discovery of a new way to make scrambled eggs. But my immature annoyance soon disappeared upon seeing the photo, and a swamp of emotions washed over me. I had to close the screen to put it aside so my tears wouldn’t stain it.

          It was a plain, domestic photo of my mother sitting in front of a quiet bar at sunset, posing semi-awkwardly for my father’s camera. She was wearing a white dress with black maple leaves on it, designed in a traditional, minimalist Japanese style she always liked. Her hair was dyed to be as brown as mine, elegant curls draped around her shoulders in a way that reminded me of the delicious croissants she used to bake.

          But I couldn’t recognize her face. I zoomed in as hard as I could, desperately searching for something familiar. Her lips seemed to have a different color, her nose bridge was way taller than what I remembered to be, and her eyebrows looked thinner. The gradually growing distance between me and my mother was beginning to have an effect, and when I realized that I couldn’t register the softness in her eyes, my own eyes began to swell with tears.

          Mother and I didn’t have the easiest time with each other. In fact, our differences were already painfully obvious during my earliest years, as if we were living side by side in two different worlds. Mother was born in a village at the bottom of a mountain during the 1970s in China, a time I could never comprehend as a Generation Z kid born in an already-developed urban city. Growing up in a conservative family, my mother was perfectionistic and meticulous, and she lived by a strict set of standards: utensils must be set before meals with chopsticks on the right side of the rice bowl; be quiet when you are in a room with people older than you; floors and shelves in the household must be spotless at all times. I never understood why she allowed these unimportant details to control her days. There was more to life than dishes in the sink, dust on the floor, and unorganized shoe cases. There were insightful books to read, infinite topics to learn, and exciting creative work to pursue. An unmade bed could be reasonably ignored if one is rushing to write the next best chapter of their life. Having to spend ten minutes scrubbing the clean floor before I could resume my homework was an immense source of frustration for me. Now, looking back, her compulsiveness was her own way of maintaining the family and keeping us together. But for the younger me, it was something I needed to run away and escape from.

          Mother and I had countless arguments with each other during the following years, and it was because of our different views on womanhood that our relationship turned sour. Mother was raised in a misogynistic family, and she brought the scars along with her. I hated how she looked with them, and for that I hated her. I hated how she didn’t dare to speak during social events when my father was around; I hated how she gave up looking for jobs and settled as a housewife; and I hated how she spent countless hours trying to lose weight and telling herself that she wasn’t thin, slim, or attractive enough. One day, after hearing her saying how it’s best for me to choose the easy way and stop trying so hard, I shouted back: “Just because you are too much of a coward to muster up the courage to do something challenging, doesn’t mean that I am!” I ran out of the room without looking back. I didn’t see her puffy, exhausted eyes.

          This time, I ran 7591 miles away from her. She begged for me to stay, but she knew about my stubbornness. I swore to myself that I will never be like her. I made sure that we were living in different countries, eating different food, and speaking different languages. I stopped calling her, and I even stopped celebrating holidays and chose to spend my long breaks at my friends’ houses instead.

"As I went on living without her, though, I started to find more and more of her shadow in me."

          As I went on living without her, though, I started to find more and more of her shadow in me. We both liked the smell of new cashmere sweaters, the burnt, crispy part of vanilla cakes, and spontaneous picnics in zoos and lake parks. We had a soft spot for anything with caramel, and we both agreed that the best pizza topping is pineapple. I could never forget the way she rode the scooter through rainstorms with me on her back. Comfortably leaning on mother’s warm shoulders and hiding under a comically large raincoat with raindrops dripping off my eyebrows, I peeked through an opening gap, curiously observing the blurry streets hugged by the hazy fog and traffic lights – that was my way of seeing this world.

          And for a while, my mother was my world. Even though she didn’t understand why I would rather practice roller-skating in the rain than take a day off, she still came and picked me up with dry clothes and chips. She was baffled when I picked non-fiction over comic books, but nonetheless made me custard buns and set them beside my bookmark.

          I never thought about how painful it was for her to have trouble understanding her own daughter. I didn’t hate my mother, not really. Hatred was the cheapest mask I got to cover up all the blame I put on myself for being too weak to stand up for her and the astringent guilt I hid in my bedroom closet. It was the only way I knew.

          Maybe mother and daughter are not meant to understand each other at all. Instead, we were made to push and pull and pass each other like Jupiter and Saturn, and all we could do was grow. In the end, it doesn’t matter if our worlds never intertwine together perfectly, as long as I can still sit by your side and have a cup of your coffee.

          I love you, mother. I am glad that I am your daughter. Thank you for protecting me in this vast, confusing universe.

          10:19 p.m.

          Sitting next to Lake Michigan, I unlocked my phone once again and dialed my mother’s number. Earthy breezes teased with my sleeves and tickled my cheeks. A lone lighthouse shimmering from afar, its amber glow being the only thing that was keeping me away from the cold and endless darkness.

          “Oh baby, you haven’t called me for a long time. Did you eat dinner?”

          “Yeah yeah I did. Mom, guess what, I’m coming home this winter break.”


About the Writer...

Luna Lu is a current junior at Interlochen Arts Academy majoring in Interdisciplinary Arts, her focuses include film, theater, music, creative writing, visual art, and collecting books. A life-long learner, she dedicates her energy to the pursuit of beauty and knowledge.

About the Artist...

Yiming Low is a visual arts major at the Savannah Arts Academy in Savannah, Georgia. Along with traditional styles of realism, she enjoys experimenting with graphic design, photography, and printmaking.

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